A key component of AWC’s conservation strategy is creating an extensive network of feral predator-free havens across the continent, allowing locally extinct mammal species to be restored into parts of their historic range. The largest feral predator-free area on mainland Western Australia is at Mt Gibson Wildlife Sanctuary. Covering a vast 7,800 hectares, the project has raised the bar for re-wilding projects in Australia, with eight locally extinct species now reintroduced and becoming established at the site.
The first species reintroduced to Mt Gibson Wildlife Sanctuary in 2015 was the Greater Stick-nest Rat (Leporillus conditor). This guinea pig-sized, native rodent has the amazing habit of building a communal home out of sticks and stones. Two species of Stick-nest Rat – the Greater and the Lesser – historically occurred across southern and central Australia, but have been eliminated from the mainland by feral cats and foxes, compounded by the impacts of feral herbivores. Tragically, the Lesser Stick-nest Rat is extinct, while a relict population of just 1,000 Greater Stick-nest Rat clings to survival on the Franklin Islands, South Australia.
The population of endangered Greater Stick-nest Rats being established at Mt Gibson is critical for the conservation of the species as it is one of only six surviving populations globally. Like many of Australia’s small to medium-sized native mammals, Greater Stick-nest Rats are highly vulnerable to feral predators and cannot survive in environments where feral cats and foxes are present. AWC is committed to halting and restoring the Greater Stick-nest Rat population on the mainland.
AWC ecologists, in partnership with the South Australian Department of Environment and Water (SA DEW), recently undertook a logistically challenging translocation of Greater Stick-nest Rats from St Peter Island, South Australia, to Mt Gibson. St Peter Island sits off the west coast of the Eyre Peninsula, approximately 25 kilometres south of Ceduna. (Greater Stick-nest Rats were previously taken to the island by the South Australian Government in 1993 to establish an ‘insurance population’).
By constructing a network of feral-predator free areas across the continent, the AWC team is dedicated to saving Australia’s endangered wildlife from extinction. Please watch our short film documenting this exciting restoration of Greater Stick-nest Rats from St Peter Island to their new home at Mt Gibson Wildlife Sanctuary below.
Over 11 nights in September 2018, a team of eight AWC staff and two staff from SA DEW undertook a complex logistical operation to capture and translocate 13 Greater Stick-nest Rats (seven males and six females) to Mt Gibson. AWC ecologists used both trapping and spotlighting to capture animals on St Peter Island. Traps were checked before sunrise and spotlighting was conducted throughout the night when the animals were most active.
During health checks, two of the seven males showed signs of trauma. A specialist wildlife vet was flown in to check the animals for any evidence of disease or pathogens. The results of blood tests and further examination concluded that the trauma was likely caused by aggressive interactions between males. With the health of the animals cleared, the translocation continued, although the males showing injuries were deemed not suitable for translocation and were released.
After arriving at Mt Gibson, 10 of the 13 animals were fitted with small radio transmitters, allowing AWC ecologists to track and monitor the dispersal of the animals upon release. While animals groomed off their transmitters within days, the data showed some individuals travelled more than three kilometres on their first night in the sanctuary.
AWC’s Mt Gibson Wildlife Sanctuary is Australia’s most successful reintroduction project which has only been made possible through your support. Please donate to protect Greater Stick-nest Rats and other endangered species from feral cats and foxes, and ultimately, from extinction.
AWC acknowledges the major supporters of the Mt Gibson project: Michael Tichbon, Perth Zoo, Lotterywest, the Northern Agricultural Catchments Council NRM and Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions.